The Saviors of the Morningside High School Football Program

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One of the 80 helmets donated by Riddell to the MHS football program

Morningside High School’s Cinderella season came to a close on Nov. 16 with their playoff loss to Chaminade, but it was a season that almost didn’t happen.  The team nearly had to forfeit its entire schedule had it not been for a tenacious group of alumni and the generosity of a company who literally saved the entire program with a $45,000 equipmentdonation.  Riddell Sports was the donor, the Friends of MHS the group that made it happen.  This is a story of how a small group of caring people, working totally behind-the-scenes without fanfare, dreamed a big vision and mobilized others to make it come true.

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Senior offensive Lineman #72, Efrem Fitts

For some, the chance to participate in high school athletics is the reason to come to school each day.  It gives young people purpose and focus, friendships that last a lifetime and instills positive values such as sportsmanship, perseverance and character.  At public high schools, football is unarguably the flagship sport, with rich traditions and fierce competition that draw the most fans and attention.

It is no different at Morningside High School, but this year, the entire program was in serious danger of not happening.  Head football coach Derwin Henderson, hired in May 2013, took over a program with not enough equipment and facilities in such deplorable condition, Henderson wondered how his players would ever be successful.

“When I first saw the facilities, I couldn’t think of anything worse.  We had nothing.  No helmets, not even footballs,” said Henderson.  “Eight kids showed up for my first team meeting.”

Alumni

Just a smattering of Friends of MHS Alumni cheering on their Monarchs

Enter the Friends of MHSalumni organization. Conceived in 2010 as an informal “get together” of a few MHS graduates, theFriends of MHS now reaches more than 1700 Monarchs comprised of alumni from 1954 – 1974.  The group has a singular focus of supporting MHS, its students, staff and programs.  Since its inception, it has provided more than $120,000 in donations of cash, prizes, products, services, labor and expertise, more than half that total donated this year alone.  Sherrie Basch-Stelik co-founded the Friends of MHS with husband John.  They spearhead a formidable group that can reach thousands of alumni and mobilize help for the school on a moment’s notice through the group’s substantial Facebook, newsletter and informal networks of supporters.

“While John and I may be the face on campus or the ‘hub’ as some have called us, without the dedication and unwavering support of our Monarch friends and classmates, none of this would be possible,” said Basch-Stelik.  “We are all so proud of Coach D, his staff and the team.”

Presentation

Recognition ceremony for Riddell on Nov. 8, (from left) Coach Henderson, Erin Griffin, Tina McKown, Assistant Principal Jevon Davis, Sherrie Basch-Stelik and MHS Activities Director Eddie Conner

Into Basch-Stelik’s expansive network, Henderson put out a request for help.  Even before Riddell stepped in, his call was immediately answered by alumni, to the tune of $1,150 in cash and three new weight benches.  Thankfully MHS Alumni Tina McKown, Corporate Travel Manager with Easton, also read the request and answered the call.  She contacted colleague Erin Griffin, Senior Communications Manager with Riddell, who contacted Henderson directly.  This grew into a partnership that eventually delivered 80 helmets, shoulder pads, back plates and other equipment worth $45,000 completely free to the school.  It was this equipment the Morningside Monarchs proudly donned en route to a winning season and spot in the playoffs, their first in nine years.

“After getting the basic equipment we needed, then it was all about coaching, that was the easy part,” said Henderson, whose coaching resume includes a Division II CIF title earned in 2011 in LAUSD.  “This year was a really successful season, if you look at it from where we started and where we ended up.”

Morningside publically honored Riddell and the Friends of MHS on the field before the Nov. 8 game with cross-town rival Inglewood High School.  It was a fitting tribute at an opportune time because Morningside’s eventual win that night put them in the playoffs.  An amazing year and a Cinderella season that would not have happened without Coach Henderson’s steady leadership and help from the Friends of MHS and Riddell.